**This post is part of the “A Word About Wholefoods Series”. Click here to see the first post and links to other posts in the series.
So today I’m asking the question: does meal planning really help?
In a word, yes! But I will go into a bit more detail.
I just wanted to share with you all a little about how I first got into meal planning and how it has affected our lifestyle, saving us a lot of time, money, and food waste.
I am definitely not a natural meal planner. My mother taught me some wonderful skills in cooking, especially when it came to creativity. I am not really a ‘recipe-follower’, and have always tended to just open the fridge and see what I could throw together from ingredients in there.
This is not a bad thing. In fact, towards the end of each month, or when I’ve got a ‘leftovers’ or blank night in my meal plan (more on that later), that is what I do, and it serves me very well!
But when I was at university and cooking for myself, this was the only way I knew. I would walk into the supermarket on at least a weekly basis (often needing to go back during the week for what I’d forgotten), pick up a basket, and grab whatever took my fancy. I thought very little about what I would make, just picked up what I thought I would like and brought it home.
When I started being aware of how much this way of shopping and cooking was costing me, I asked around, and found I was in awe of a friend of mine who revealed how little her food shopping cost her. When I dug a little deeper, I discovered her secret, although it would be a little while yet before I would be able to bring myself to try it properly: meal planning.
Every week, she would sit and write her meals for the week ahead, make a list of all the ingredients she would need for those meals, and buy only what was on her list when she shopped! I convinced myself it just wasn’t for me, but she was spending half of what I was on food, so I eventually came round after university when I was looking at my tiny salary and wondering how I could make it work.
It took a lot of trial and error, because I believe meal planning can look very different for different people. I have tried weekly, fortnightly and monthly planning (we now always use monthly as it saves us the most money). I have tried once-a-month freezer cooking, batch cooking, slow cooking, and many more. It would take a long time to run you through all of these, but I wanted to share what we use, what works for us, and I will include links to some good articles about different ways as well.
Meal planning for me is still a work in progress, but over the last couple of years, I feel I have found what works best for us where we are at the moment. For us, that means setting aside an hour or two at the end of the month to sit down with Pinterest, recipe books, our family favourite recipes, and lists of seasonal items, and plan our dinners for the whole month ahead. This works for us, and has saved a lot of time in the long run (as well as last-minute trips to the shops), but when I first started as a single working girl, I found that planning lunches and dinners on a weekly basis worked best.
After planning the month’s dinners, I go through the list and make sure I’ve left a few blank spots (usually about one a week) for improvisational/leftovers nights. This is partly because (as I said) I’m not much of a recipe-follower and I love to be creative with food, but it also helps on those nights when we realize we have more food leftover from the week than we thought, and so we have a bit of a pick-and-mix night to avoid waste.
With my completed plan, I write down all of the ingredients I will need to buy (and how much of each) and create my shopping list (this sometimes takes two gos to get it neat!). I add in my usual monthly items of household products and toiletries we are running out of, as well as items for lunch (if not planning to use leftovers) and breakfast/snacks.
Et voila! It’s that simple!
Now, in terms of cooking and prep, I would usually use once-a-month or batch cooking (usually involving the slow cooker), but as I am not currently working, this is not really necessary for me, as I am not tight on cooking time. When working full-time in the past though, those methods have worked well for me.
I will talk a little more about those methods in next week’s post!
What about you? Do you plan your meals? Do you plan weekly/fortnightly/monthly? Has it been helpful for you?